Click here for Arena Magazine article ‘Keep the Poison out of Muckaty’ (Jointly authored by BNI,ACF,ECNT)

Click here to download Muckaty waste dump briefing paper


A thorough selection of articles related to the NT waste dump plan can be found at the Nuclear Territory news website.

Click here


Senate’s Muckaty nuclear dump report delayed

By Gina Marich

Posted Fri Apr 30, 2010 1:32pm AEST

A Senate committee report into the proposed nuclear waste dump at Muckaty Station, north of Tennant Creek, has been delayed.

The committee was meant to present the report today but Northern Territory Senator Trish Crossin says it will not happen for at least another week as the committee continues its investigation.

Senator Crossin says the report is not looking at whether or not there should be a nuclear waste dump, but at the fairness of the proposed legislation.

“This was a committee that was looking at whether or not when this legislation goes through and the Federal Government decides to put a waste facility in this country whether this legislation provided a fair and proper process for all parties concerned,” she said.


Land owners out of mind, out of site



February 27, 2010

Nuclear waste dump plans are dividing an Aboriginal clan, write Lindsay Murdoch and Tom Arup.

DIANNE STOKES says the Rudd government’s decision to push ahead with plans to dump nuclear waste on land north of Tennant Creek has caused trouble in her Warlmanpa tribe.

“People have given away land that doesn’t belong to them … now there is big trouble among us,” she says.

For centuries, Aboriginal clans followed their dreaming across the gently sloping, low scrub land that became known last century by white people as Muckaty cattle station.

Now some members of one of those clans have agreed to allow Australia’s first national waste dump to be established on 1.5 square kilometres of land they claim is theirs in return for $12 million, most of it in cash.

The terms of the agreement remain secret – even some members of the Ngapa clan who might get the money have not been given a copy.

The Federal Resources Minister, Martin Ferguson, revealed this week the government planned to pursue Muckaty as its nuclear dump site, saying it is the only place that had been “volunteered”.

He introduced legislation in Parliament that gives his government the power to override a threat by the Northern Territory to block the dump being built at Muckaty, an earthquake-prone area 120 kilometres north of Tennant Creek.

If the dump – or radioactive waste repository as bureaucrats call it – is built, about 4000 cubic metres of waste that has been accumulating in small stores in southern states over the past 50 years would be transported there, by rail or road.

Trucks would move 2000 cubic metres of radioactive contaminated soil from the Woomera defence area in South Australia.

Stockpiles of waste from the Lucas Heights reactor in Sydney in southern Sydney would be transported through dozens of cities and towns to reach the dump site 10 kilometres from the busy Stuart Highway.

In 2015 and 2016 about 32 cubic metres of highly radioactive waste from the reprocessing of spent research reactor fuel that Australia has sent to Scotland and France over decades is planned to be transported to Muckaty, probably via ships docking at Darwin harbour.

Mr Ferguson has signalled he is determined to push ahead with Muckaty despite strong objections from environmental and indigenous groups, the NT government and Labor federal MPs from the Territory who have railed against a dump being imposed on the Territory.

The story of how some members of a small Aboriginal clan agreed to allow nuclear waste to be dumped on their land began in late 2005 when Norman Fry, then chief executive of the Northern Land Council, met Canberra bureaucrats who were assessing three possible Defence Department-owned sites in the Territory.

Questions were being asked at the time about the relevance and conduct of the land council, which represents indigenous groups across the Top End.

Mr Fry invited the bureaucrats to address the land council’s full council meeting at a beach resort near Darwin.

After a half-day presentation, several elders of one of three Ngapa clans told the lands council they were interested in offering their land for the site.

One of them, Amy Lauder, who sits on the council, said in 2007 her people’s acceptance of the deal was right, despite protests from other clans owning Muckaty, which was handed back to traditional owners in 1995 after a long court battle.

“Other clans can speak for their country, not our Ngapa country,” she said.

Ron Levy, the land council’s senior legal counsel, insisted there was “overwhelming” support for the dump from Ngapa people with the authority to make decisions regarding the land, based on the still secret findings of three land council-employed anthropologists.

But Marlene Bennett, a Muckaty traditional owner, said that two, possibly three, people “took it upon themselves to speak for the rest of the tribe and clans”.

She said some clan members were asked to sign a piece of paper at a meeting but did not know what it was for.

David Ross, the director of the Central Land Council, which represents some clans whose land straddles Muckaty, this week warned that building the dump there would cause “ongoing disputation and social problems” among indigenous groups in the area.

After an inquiry in 2008, a Labor-dominated Senate committee acknowledged the controversy surrounding the Muckaty nomination, including the process of gathering and providing anthropological information. It described the Howard government-era nuclear waste management legislation as flawed.

But the legislation Mr Ferguson introduced into Parliament this week failed to restore procedural fairness and administrative law rights to those traditional owners opposed to the Muckaty nomination.

The legislation also overrides the NT’s nuclear waste transport legislation and bypasses key federal environmental and heritage laws.

Paul Henderson, the Territory Chief Minister, made clear he felt betrayed by his federal Labor colleagues and said he would express his strong view to Canberra that the process should be based on science and the search should be Australia wide.

Successive governments in Canberra have being trying to find a site to dump nuclear waste since 1985.

The federal government bought what scientists argued was the most suitable site in South Australia in 2003 but, following a sustained public campaign, the South Australian Government mounted and won a legal challenge in 2004.

Natalie Wasley, a spokeswoman for the Beyond Nuclear Initiative in the Northern Territory, said: “Labor promised an open and transparent process for dealing with nuclear waste – but has only recycled previous flawed legislation.”

Dave Sweeney, a nuclear expert with the Australian Conservation Foundation, said no comparable country has a national radioactive waste policy based on secret documents and agreements.

The government has not made public any detail about the dump, such as whether it would be in bunkers or sheds, how it would be transported and protected and what effect it would have on the environment.

A spokesman for Mr Ferguson said a study by the firm Parson Brinckerhoff, which found Muckaty was a suitable potential site, would be made public at some stage.

Mr Sweeney said: “International experience has shown that if you are going to have an effective radioactive management scheme – and that is what we all want to see – it requires a high level of community confidence and a high level of community consent. This currently does not exist in Australia.”

“You don’t solve long-term environmental and human health threats with short-term political bulldoze tactics.”

Ms Stokes says she and other Warlmanpa tribe elders who own Muckaty land are worried because they want to say no to the dump. “We want to keep talking about it and continue to fight it until we are listened to.”


24 Feb 2010

Ferguson To Dump Nuclear Waste On ‘Soft Target’

By Natalie Wasley

The Government wants to go ahead with its radioactive waste dump plans — and it’s no coincidence that those plans involve Aboriginal land far from marginal seats, writes Natalie Wasley

Federal Resources Minister Martin Ferguson announced on Tuesday that he intends to pursue plans for a national radioactive waste repository at Muckaty, 120 kilometres north of Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory.

Ferguson’s media release asserted that he was restoring “fairness” to the difficult issue of managing Australia’s radioactive waste. Elements of the Minister’s announcement do just that — in particular, the repeal of the 2005-06 Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Act, extraordinary legislation which permitted the imposition of a dump in the absence of any consultation with or consent from Traditional Owners.

However the Minister’s new legislation entrenches another unfair process which began under the Howard government. Section 11 of the National Radioactive Waste Management Bill 2010 provides the Minister with the power to override any and all State/Territory laws, which might in any way impede his nuclear waste dump plans. Ferguson said yesterday “Our new law will effectively have the same application as the previous government in respect of that area. In no way can we allow any state or territory government to get in the way of establishing a repository”.

Overall then, the Minister is pursing an approach with is scarcely less draconian than that of the Howard government

Indeed, a reading of the Bill reveals that Ferguson also intends to override the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act and the Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander Heritage Protection Act 1984 in relation to site selection. Thus Ferguson is denying the Environment Minister any role in the site selection process.

Ferguson claims that Ngapa Traditional Owners support the nomination of the Muckaty site. He well knows that many Ngapa Traditional Owners oppose the dump — as well as numerous requests for meetings, he received a letter opposing the dump in May 2009 signed by 25 Ngapa Traditional Owners and 32 Traditional Owners from other Muckaty groups. When quizzed about the letter on ABC radio yesterday, Ferguson quickly changed the topic.

Ferguson is also well aware of the unanimous resolution passed by the NT Labor Conference in April 2008 which called on the Federal Government to exclude Muckaty on the grounds that the nomination “was not made with the full and informed consent of all Traditional Owners and affected people and as such does not comply with the Aboriginal Land Rights Act”.

And Ferguson knows that Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin among many others has acknowledged the distress and opposition of many Muckaty Traditional Owners.

As well, a joint ALP media release issued in 2007, from Senator Trish Crossin, Senator Kim Carr, Minister Peter Garrett and Minister Warren Snowdon said “Labor understands that many families in the area are strongly opposed to the waste dump idea, and that these families are concerned their rights have been ignored in the process”.

The nomination of the Muckaty site hinges on a contract signed between the Northern Land Council, Federal Government and Muckaty Land Trust, but requests to view this contract — requests made by Traditional Owners and by a Senate Committee dedicated to the issue — have been denied.

The Australian National Audit Office was approached to assess the validity of the “commercial in confidence” status of the contract, but merely referred the request to the Department, which replied that the NLC had requested it remain confidential.

If the negotiations are truly to be “open, transparent and accountable”, as the Rudd Government claims, the site selection study and site nomination deed must be available for independent scrutiny. If not, they will continue to be mistrusted by Traditional Owners and stakeholders who have been shut out of many stages of the process to date.

Traditional Owners opposed to the radioactive waste dump will continue fighting to keep their country clean — and they may prevail after yet another protracted struggle. Muckaty Traditional Owner Dianne Stokes has been speaking against the proposal since its inception and is determined to see it through. “We have been writing letters to the government body signed by the Traditional Owners. We have been asking for someone to come and sit with us so that we can talk to them face to face. We want to keep talking about it and continue to fight it until we are listened to. The big capital N‐O.”

Yesterday, while outlining his new dump process, Ferguson mentioned nuclear medicine repeatedly. But the practice of nuclear medicine in no way depends on securing a dump site — let alone the hotly contested Muckaty site — and it is simply scare-mongering for the Minister to suggest otherwise.

How should we handle the contentious issues surrounding nuclear waste? It’s easier said than done, but all we need is a little common sense. Firstly, as with the production of all other hazardous materials, it needs to be demonstrated that radioactive waste is not being produced unnecessarily. It is by no means clear that Australia needs to operate the research reactor at Lucas Heights — our sole reactor. Measured by radioactivity, the reactor (and in particular its spent nuclear fuel) is the source of well over 90 per cent of the waste in question. For its part, the Labor Party, when in opposition, was itself opposed to the construction of the new “OPAL” research reactor.

Secondly, all options for radioactive waste management need to be considered — not just the option of “remote” repositories (which are always more remote for some people than for others). This includes the option of ongoing storage at the Lucas Heights site, which is operated by the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation. ANSTO is the source of most of the waste and is host to most of Australia’s radioactive waste management expertise. All the relevant organisations have acknowledged that ongoing storage at Lucas Heights is a viable option — those organisations include ANSTO, the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency, the Australian Nuclear Association and even Ferguson’s own department.

Additionally, requiring ANSTO to store its own waste is the best — and perhaps the only — way of focussing the organisation’s collective mind on the importance of waste minimisation principles.

Thirdly, if a site selection process is required it ought to be based on scientific and environmental siting criteria, as well as on the principle of voluntarism — if a community gets a site like this, it should be because that community can see benefits in it. At the moment site selection is made for rather different reasons. In 2005, the Howard government chose the Northern Territory, and ruled out NSW, on purely political reasons.

When the federal Bureau of Resource Sciences conducted a national repository site selection study in the 1990s, informed by scientific, environmental and social criteria, the Muckaty site did not even make the short-list as a “suitable” site. The fact that Martin Ferguson now favours it isn’t about the site being genuinely suitable — it’s about Muckaty being seen as a politically soft target.


Published in the Age online and Centralian Advocate

Letter to Editors

December 2009


Nuclear advocate Senator Judith Troeth has called the current plan to dump radioactive waste on the Northern Territory a ‘viable option’. This plan relies on Howard era laws that allow site selection to occur without consultation or consent from Traditional Owners or impacted communities. Only one year ago, a Senate Committee she participated in recommended that these laws be overturned in the first federal parliament sittings of 2009. Minister Martin Ferguson has refused to implement this recommendation, or the pre-election promises of the ALP to scrap the laws and initiate a process that is “open, transparent and allows access to appeal mechanisms”. Targeted communities continue to fight the idea that their homelands are political sacrifice zones and support around the country is growing. A lesson? Radioactive waste lasts forever, but politicans, their promises and policies don’t.

Natalie Wasley

Beyond Nuclear Initiative


October 31, 2009

“We want them to stop it”

Community opposition to a radioactive waste dump in the Northern Territory

Written by Nat Wasley

The proposal to build a federal radioactive waste dump in the NT continues to be a hotly contested issue, despite years of inaction by the ALP government.

The plan was announced in 2005 by the Howard Government, and at the time was strongly criticised by the ALP opposition. There were clear pre election commitments from Labor to repeal the federal laws allowing the dump to be forced on the NT. Many ALP Senators and senior politicans made theatrical speeches in parliament complaining the process was riding roughshod over the rights of Traditional Owner and other Territorians.

However for the last two years, the ALP has been quiet on the issue, with carriage given completely to pro nuclear Minister Martin Ferguson, who has not visited any of the proposed areas and refuses to engage directly with affected communities.

Mitch, an Arrernte/Luritja woman who has been fighting the dump since it was first announced is angry that the Minister has not bothered to answers requests to visit people on country. “Ferguson has still not consulted with affected people. Don’t be afraid- we are the same as you. You are welcome to our community as previously. If you won’t come, we want you to resign and give the job to someone willing to consult”.

Letters, phone calls, faxes, emails and visits to Mr Ferguson’s offices in Melbourne and Canberra have been mostly ignored, with a standard answer ‘cut and paste’ and sent back to all written correspondence.

The most coherent (though worrying) response to queries about when the legislative repeal will occur has been in recent months, with a grand announcement that he will not consult with targeted communities until after a decision on a ‘preferred site’ has been made.

Presumably Mr Ferguson is hoping that the targeted communities will get sick of waiting for an announcement and wind down their campaign.

There is however, ongoing, fierce resistance from people at all of the targeted areas, and support is steadily growing around the country.

Four areas in the NT are still under assessment – three are Department of Defence sites and the fourth is an area in the Muckaty Land Trust, nominated for assessment by the Northern Land Council. While the Howard era laws still stand, all of these sites are in contention, yet it is increasingly looking like Muckaty is top of the list.

The Department of Defence sites, considered ‘Commonwealth land’, would not require any compensation to be paid to Traditional Owners or the NT government. Two of these sites are located in the Central Land Council region, which supports Traditional Owners in their campaign to say no to the dump.

In contrast, Muckaty Traditional Owners have been offered a $12 million package for roads, housing and education scholarships if their land is selected and the government is likely to use this payment to say the facility is for the benefit of the local Aboriginal community.

The pressure on remote communities to accept high impact projects in return for funding is a worrying trend. Both federal and Territory governments have slashed funding to the majority of remote Territory outstations and communities, with policies directing funding to only a small number of proposed ‘growth towns’. This abdication of responsibility goes hand in hand with encouragement for communities to either move to the ‘growth towns’, accept tied funding (like in return for a nuclear dump) or partner with companies wanting to explore, mine or develop in the region, to gain private sector funding for infrastructure and services.

Despite the financial incentive, many Traditional Owners remain steadfastly opposed. Dianne Stokes, Muckaty community spokesperson, has travelling tirelessly around the country to speak against the dump proposal. When recently asked her message to the government, Dianne said clearly “We want them to stop it. We don’t want them to come back and ask again. They should have done it right the first time and we would have said no in the beginning. We don’t want them to come back and ask for our land. We want Martin Ferguson to start listening. People from the Muckaty Land Trust are saying no to the nuclear waste dump”.

In October Senate Estimates questioning, a representative from the Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism admitted the first shipment of radioactive waste returning from reprocessing overseas, earmarked for the NT dump, is not due back until mid-2015, adding years to the original schedule of a 2011 return date.

Clearly, there is an opportunity to use this extra time to initiate a better process of radioactive waste management.

Around the world there is a growing awareness that community involvement in radioactive waste management decisions is essential for projects to move forward and come to fruition. Minister Martin Ferguson continues to lag behind international trends with every week he delays on repealing the Howard-era dump laws.

As Ferguson fiddles, the pressure on Australia to build an international high level waste dump continues to grow, with the idea publicly advocated by former Prime Minister Bob Hawke and a number of high profile nuclear industry figures. Though the ALP maintains a platform opposing importation and storage of high level radioactive materials, the ongoing secrecy surrounding the domestic dump process is a worrying benchmark.

Radioactive waste management bridges many portfolios. The Ministers for Indigenous Affairs, Environment, Health, Transport and Science have been sitting back and letting Ferguson push ahead with the Howard government plan, but it is time for them to also stand up and break this deadlock.

The fight to stop the dump proposed for South Australia was a decade long battle, but in the end the determination and resilience of the Kupa Piti Kungka Tjuta defeated the plan.

Mrs Eileen Wingfield, who was instrumental in the success of the SA dump campaign, expressed solidarity to the NT communities at the 2009 meeting of the Australian Nuclear Free Alliance, saying “if they need help, we will come up there”.

We need support from communities, trade unions, students, environment and health groups around the country to build on decades of community resistance to the toxic nuclear industry and ensure the NT waste dump plan is buried once and for all.


A Uranium Hole In The Heart Of Australia
Written by Daniel Clarke
Sunday, 23 August 2009 17:19
A typically dusty drive 25km south of Australia’s central capital brings you to an unlocked gate beside the old Ghan railway line.Behind the fence, among the rolling red desert hills, drilling workers are busy boring 120 holes into an area of earth said to contain about 12,000 tonnes of uranium oxide worth up to $2.5 billion.

The uranium deposits, named Angela and Pamela, were first discovered in the 1970s and 80s but lay dormant until a new exploration licence was granted by the Northern Territory government late last year.

Canadian company Cameco and Australian-owned Paladin, the two businesses involved in the joint venture, hope to build Australia’s fifth uranium mine inside the Alice Springs water catchment boundary.

Environment Minister Peter Garrett last month gave approval for the nation’s fourth uranium mine at South Australia’s Four Mile mine.

The Angela Pamela exploratory licence is part of the NT’s push to expand its mining industry in response to a global surge for uranium.

But a growing chorus of Alice Springs residents and tourism operators say the health risks of building a uranium mine within dust-storm distance of a major regional hub outweigh any economic benefits.

AS uranium uranium sign

Family and medical groups have expressed grave concerns about Cameco’s recent history of radioactive leaks and flooding accidents from its uranium mines.

If the Angela Pamela uranium mine is built it will be positioned within 15km of existing and proposed bore fields for the Alice Springs drinking supply.

Cameco, the world’s largest producer of uranium, flooded its Cigar Lake mine in Canada in 2006, leaving one fifth of the world’s uranium reserves underwater. Efforts to remove the water have so far failed.

In 2007 the company discovered a 10-year radioactive leak at its Port Hope conversion plant and last year paid $1.4 million to the US State of Wyoming for failing to comply with a host of environmental standards at its Smith Ranch-Highland facility.

Cameco says its preliminary groundwater tests have found no connection between the uranium deposit and the Mereenie Aquifer which supplies water to Alice Springs, but has refused to guarantee that contamination won’t occur.

This is in contrast to a comment by NT Chief Minister Paul Henderson in October last year, in which he gave his “absolute assurance” to the safety of Alice Springs residents.

Arid Lands Environment Centre coordinator Jimmy Cocking says the chief minster’s promise “demonstrates the government’s arrogance towards the people of central Australia”.

“We’ve got a big mining company which has caused all these groundwater problems around the world coming into our town and telling us to trust it with our precious water source. It’s an unacceptable risk for Alice Springs and an unacceptable precedent for the government to be setting,” Cocking says.

“Both the nuclear industry and the government are relying on the fact that because we’re so far away from the big cities this issue will be out of sight, out of mind.

“If this is allowed to happen a lot of families will leave the town and we need to stop this now before exploration is finished and a full mining application is submitted.

“Who really wants to go to a place where if the wind blows up from the south like it does here almost every day, there’s a possibility that you’re breathing in radioactive dust?”

Tempers flared at a community meeting in March when Primary Industries Minister Kon Vatskalis admitted he did not know about Cameco’s history in Canada before granting it an exploration licence.

Mr Vatskalis says any proposal for a new mine is subject to strict environmental approvals processes. “Where a proposed mine is in the vicinity or catchment of a town water supply, thorough hydrogeological studies would be required to establish that there is no likelihood of contamination of the water supply before any approval to mine is granted.”

He says Cameco has been operating in the NT for 16 years and has “consistently met their social and environmental responsibilities”.

“They have a good record of environmental performance in the Territory. Any application for the mining of uranium would trigger a formal environmental assessment under Commonwealth legislation that will include a rigorous assessment of dust and water contamination issues”.

AP drilling-2

But Don Wait, owner of Wayoutback Tours, is furious the government would consider risking the red centre’s multi-million dollar eco-tourism industry.

“What bloody idiot came up with the idea of a uranium mine in the water catchment? Governments are responsible for looking after people, not putting them in jeopardy,” he says.

“Travellers come here from all over the world to experience our unique untouched natural landscape. The investment in tourism in this area has been massive for a large number of years and you can ruin our reputation overnight by plonking a uranium mine right next to Alice Springs. The consequences are just outrageous.

“They say it’s going to create jobs but there is a glut of work in this town. I have to get backpackers to fill positions”.

A survey of 306 travellers conducted by Mr Wait’s company found 20 per cent would not return to Alice Springs if a uranium mine was built, and 44 per cent said they were unsure.

Mr Vatskalis says that if the mine proceeded it would have “a relatively small footprint and is not likely to be visible from any of the major tourist attractions in and around Alice Springs”.

“The presence of the Ranger uranium mine within Kakadu National Park has not prevented a thriving tourist industry in that region,” he says.

Beyond Nuclear Initiative campaigner Nat Wasley says it is “ludicrous” for the federal and territory governments to use the Ranger uranium mine as an example of good practise.

“The Commonwealth’s own scientist revealed in March that 100,000 litres of contaminated water is leaking from the mine into the ground beneath Kakadu every day,” Wasley says.

“If those are the problems they’re having at the most heavily regulated uranium mine in Australia, if not the world, one can only imagine what might happen down the track at Alice Springs”.

The Australian Labor Party controversially dumped its “no new mines” policy in 2007, and since being elected the Rudd Government has been busy selling Australia’s credentials as a dominant world supplier of uranium. Australia has the world’s largest uranium reserves, with about 24 per cent of the planet’s known stocks.

But Monash University civil engineering lecturer Dr Gavin Mudd says that US President Barack Obama’s push for a reduction in the world’s nuclear weapons stockpiles would lead to a collapse in uranium prices.

“A lot of the uranium from those nuclear warheads would flood the energy market post-2013 and make the arguments for new mines completely botched. You can already see the jitters from uranium miners over some of these concerns,” Dr Mudd says.

“With expanded production capacity coming out of South Australia’s Olympic Dam it’s really hard to imagine a scenario where a project like Angela Pamela is going to be economically viable.”

Dr Mudd says it is “silly” to say a uranium mine poses no risk to the Alice Springs water supply.

“If they’ve got an open cut mine or an underground mine they have to build a tailings dam. The fact remains that every tailings dam leaks. It’s not a matter of if; it’s a matter of how much and what the potential impacts are likely to be.”

Cameco’s project manager Stephan Stander says there is a lot of misinformation about the company’s overseas operations and that it is “extremely focussed on environmental management”.

“I don’t think anybody can give a 100 per cent guarantee that we won’t have a (contamination) event somewhere in the future. But I honestly don’t think any such event would be unmanageable and I don’t think it would impact meaningfully on the town’s water supply or anybody’s safely.

“All the indications in terms of water quality that we’ve tested at that site indicate there is not a connection between the site and the town’s water supply.”

He says the Angela Pamela deposit is an attractive mine site because of its close proximity to infrastructure, its shallow location and its potential for relatively easy extraction. Cameco-Paladin will likely use an underground mining method with a “very small open cut area”.

Mr Stander says a mining application licence will be submitted by the end of next year and that Cameco, which opened an office in Alice Springs before it was granted an exploration licence, is committed to establishing itself as a “valuable and important part of the community”.

“Our ultimate aim is for at least 40 per cent Indigenous employment, which is the percentage we have at some of our Canadian operations.” But he admitted it would be a challenge to find sufficiently skilled people from the local region.

Mitch, a spokesperson for affected Indigenous families at Angela Pamela, says Aboriginal people are being forced to override their cultural rules by joining the uranium venture.

“You have to take the job that’s offered to you because under the intervention you get your welfare payments cut off for eight weeks if you don’t attend job appointments. They’ve pushed our people into a really hard situation,” Mitch says.

“They’re not high-paying jobs and Indigenous people will be on the pick and shovel because they don’t have the skills in the industry.

“We see it as a breakdown in our social networking and we open ourselves up to a mining culture that we don’t want.”

Mitch says under traditional beliefs the Angela Pamela uranium deposits are located on “poison” land.

“It’s all women’s country through there and we have strong laws that this part of country can’t be touched because it is poisonous; it is no good land.

“We’ve tried to tell that to Cameco-Paladin but they’re able to breakdown the culture through money. We feel powerless in that way.”



Uranium Mining and Human Rights- Indigenous Voices Speak out

February/March 2009
Piscatwan Land, Washington DC, USA.

MItch and Manuel Pino at 'Powershift', Piscatawan Land, Washington DC

The Beyond Nuclear project based in Washington DC recently convened a series of speaking events for Indigenous people affected by nuclear industry projects.

Featured speakers included Mitch, an Arrernte/Luritja woman from Central Australia, Sidi-Amar Taoua, a Toureg nomad from Niger and Manuel Pinto, an Acoma Pueblo person from New Mexico who won the 2008 nuclear free futures award. Dr Bruno Chareyron, director of CRIIRAD (Commission for Independent Research and Information on Radioactivity) also participated in the tour to present his research of uranium contamination in Niger.

The tour was timed to coincide with the Powershift Youth Climate Action Conference, which was attended by around 12 000 people from across the USA. There was a strong focus on  ‘carbon free, nuclear free’ campaigning, with the panel discussions on nuclear issues attracting over 500 people.

Over the three days of speaking tour events, which included a press conference, film screening of Poison Wind (directed by Jenny Pond), and lobbying on Capitol Hill, the Indigenous speakers shared many personal experiences and insights about the devastating effects of the nuclear industry on land, culture and communities.

Mitch, who has spent years fighting a radioactive dump proposed on her traditional land said; “we have companies coming into Australia and we are told that uranium is clean and green and its renewable energy. We know that this is lies and this is a disgusting form of control over a population that is made to rely on the government for all their resources, their energy, their consumption.

It is policies of genocide so that other people can have power.

We are told that the next generation will have the education and the smarts to fix up our problems… but I don’t think we have the moral rights as your elders to leave the mess for you to fix up.

We do not want the next generation to try and get water out of rock, to get air out of sludge, to get food out of the bottom of the sea that is full of algae”.

Sidi-Amar Taoua explained the impact of the uranium mining industry on Toureg people and their traditions;

“The Toureg remain of one of the last people who live in the Saharan desert. Their way of life revolves around finding grazing for flocks of livestock in one of the planet’s hardest landscapes.

Uranium continues to be a critical French national interest since the country produces more than 80 per cent of energy from power plants that are fuelled by Niger uranium. One French lightbulb in three is lit by uranium from Toureg land.

People have many kind of diseases. Many are worried about the spread of radioactive dust from the mining companies bulldozers and machines. People are forced to pick through the company garbage for scrap metal to build and furnish their houses. Meanwhile French mining executives and other expatriates live nearby in luxurious villas with land and swimming pools.

Toureg believe uranium mining and its attendant operations pose a critical threat for the environment and especially for the Toureg existence. The Toureg have inhabited this part of northern Niger since the 19th century. They understand that the world is changing but they are asking that their rights as indigenous people, their land and their way of life to be respected”.

With the nuclear industry still insisting a ‘nuclear renaissance’ is around the corner, Manuel Pino from the Acoma Pueblo tribe succinctly pointed out;

“…how can we put the cart before the horse and say that nuclear power is the answer when we cant even dispose of the waste or clean up the existing legacy mines or mills that exist, in a majority of times, on indigenous peoples lands”.

Written by Natalie Wasley


Rudd Government dumping election commitments

By Jim Green

With a Senate Committee report on Thursday calling for the repeal of draconian laws allowing the imposition of a radioactive waste dump in the absence of any consultation with or consent from Aboriginal Traditional Owners, it is time for resources and energy minister Martin Ferguson to come clean on his plans for managing this contentious issue.

Labor voted against the Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Act in 2005/06 with senior Labor MPs describing it as ‘extreme’, ‘arrogant’, ‘draconian’, ‘sorry’, ‘sordid’, and ‘profoundly shameful’. At its 2007 national conference, the ALP voted unanimously to repeal the legislation. Over a year later and Martin Ferguson has not budged while Prime Minister Kevin Rudd – for all his boasting about keeping election promises – has conspicuously failed to ensure that this commitment is kept.

The Labor Government will most likely repeal the Radioactive Waste Management Act in the new year but the controversy over radioactive waste management will continue. The waste in question ranges from the relatively innocuous – such as lightly-contaminated lab-coats – to the far more hazardous and long-lived wastes arising from the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel rods from reactors at Lucas Heights.

If the Labor Government intends to pursue the Howard Government’s plan to establish a dump in the Northern Territory, it will need to override NT laws – and thereby break its pre-election pledge to respect state/territory laws which outlaw the imposition of radioactive waste dumps.

Four sites in the NT are under consideration. None of the four sites was short-listed when a national site selection study was undertaken in the 1990s, informed by scientific, environmental and social criteria. The NT sites were short-listed under the Howard government simply because the NT was seen as a soft political target. Thus Labor’s commitment to handle the issue in a scientific manner will go out the window if the NT sites are pursued.

Early in the new year, Mr Ferguson is expected to wave around a consultant’s report purporting to demonstrate that his favoured site is ideal for a radioactive dump – just as his predecessor, Senator Peter McGauran, paraded a consultant’s report in 2002 purporting to demonstrate that a site immediately adjacent to a missile and rocket testing range in South Australia was the safest place in the nation for a radioactive waste dump. Controversy forced the Howard government to abandon that location, then to abandon the SA dump plan altogether, and Mr McGauran was demoted to a junior ministry for his heavy-handed and clumsy mismanagement of the issue.

Labor’s election commitment to handle the issue transparently went out the window long ago. In April, Mr Ferguson refused to provide substantive answers to questions on his radioactive waste plans, simply asserting that all matters raised were “under consideration”. The secrecy was such that even a question about what specific matters were under consideration was also said to be under consideration!

Mr Ferguson is likely to try to impose a radioactive waste dump in an area in the Muckaty Land Trust, 120 kms north of Tennant Creek. This site was nominated by the Northern Land Council despite vocal opposition from a number of Traditional Owners whose country will be affected by the proposal.

Traditional Owner’s are divided. Dianne Stokes, a Muckaty Traditional Owner who has been leading the campaign against the dump, said at the Senate Committee hearing in Alice Springs; “We want to keep talking about it and continue to fight it until we are listened to. The big capital N-O. The Ngapa clan and the rest of the other totems in that land trust are all connected. We have connections to each other and are related to each other. We are the same tribe, the one ancestral cultural group of people who are the strong voice, and one voice, in that country”.

Muckaty Traditional Owner Marlene Bennett told the Committee hearing in Alice Springs: “I would just like to question why Martin Ferguson is sitting on this issue like a hen trying to hatch an egg. The people of the Northern Territory elected the Labor Party. We were led to believe that the nuclear waste thing would be all overturned and overruled, and at this moment we are extremely disappointed. How many times do we have to say no? No means no.”.

The opposition of numerous Muckaty Traditional Owners was expressed during the Senate inquiry and has also been acknowledged by the ALP at federal and territory levels. Among others, Indigenous affairs minister Jenny Macklin has acknowledged the opposition and distress of Muckaty Traditional Owners, while in 2001 she publicly acknowledged that Australia has no need for the nuclear reactors which are the greatest source of the problem.

In April, the NT Labor conference unanimously adopted a resolution acknowledging that the nomination of Muckaty was not made with the full and informed consent of all Traditional Owners, that it did not comply with the Aboriginal Land Rights Act and that the Muckaty nomination should be repealed.

One wonders if the fate that befell Peter McGauran will be visited on Martin Ferguson – demotion for clumsy, heavy-handed mismanagement of a contentious issue that demands a more considered, intelligent approach.

Dr Jim Green is the national nuclear campaigner with Friends of the Earth, Australia and a member of the EnergyScience Coalition.




May 2, 2008

Written by:

Jim Green B.Med.Sci. (Hons.) PhD

National nuclear campaigner – Friends of the Earth, Australia
0417 318 368

Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Act
Mr Ferguson breaches Labor policy
Mr Ferguson patronises Aboriginal people
What is to be done?
Appendix: ALP policies on nuclear waste management


Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has prided himself on his commitment to keep promises made before the November 2007 federal election. He will need to haul energy and resources minister Martin Ferguson into line. Mr Ferguson is stalling on the implementation of pre-election promises regarding nuclear waste management.

The Howard government used its numbers to push through the Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Act 2005, and 2006 amendments, through Parliament. Labor opposed the Act and the amendments and promised to repeal the legislation if elected to government. However last month (15/4/08), Mr Ferguson responded to written Senate questions by stating that repeal of the legislation is “under consideration”. Therefore it must also be true that another option “under consideration” is to maintain the Act and therefore break an unequivocal pre-election promise.

Mr Ferguson is also in breach of Labor’s commitment to address radioactive waste management issues in a manner which is “scientific, transparent, accountable, fair and allows access to appeal mechanisms” and to “ensure full community consultation in radioactive waste decision-making processes”.

In addition to his breaches of Labor policy commitments, Mr Ferguson has made patronising comments about Aboriginal people, and he has made numerous demonstrably false statements on issues relating directly to his energy and resources portfolio, calling into question the wisdom of Mr Rudd’s decision to appoint Mr Ferguson to the portfolio.

Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Act

The Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Act and the 2006 amendments (hereafter CRWMA 2005/06):
* Explicitly remove all rights to “procedural fairness”.
* Remove rights of appeal under the Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act.
* Allow the imposition of a nuclear waste dump in the absence of any consultation with, or consent from, Aboriginal Traditional Owners.
* Override the Aboriginal Land Rights Act, and in so doing remove the consultation requirements of the ALRA.
* Prevent the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act 1984 from having effect during investigation of potential dump sites, and excludes the Native Title Act 1993 from operating at all.
* Override NT laws prohibiting transport and storage of nuclear waste.
* Do away with a raft of environmental, public health and safety protections. For example the CRWMA overrides the the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Act 1999 in relation to selecting a nuclear dump site.

Labor’s national conference in April 2007 committed to repealing the CRWMA if elected (see appendix).

The CRWMA 2005/06 was strongly attacked by ALP shadow ministers and NT representatives in the federal parliament:
*** Jenny Macklin (November 2006) described the CRWMA as “extreme, arrogant and heavy-handed”. She said: “Labor will defend the right of the community, including Indigenous communities, to be properly and fully consulted before decisions are made about the location of radioactive waste dumps.”
*** Anthony Albanese (2/11/05) described the CRWMA as “extreme legislation … one of the most draconian pieces of legislation that has been brought before this chamber.” Mr Albanese noted that the CRWMA “brushes aside critical health, environmental protection, community safety and Aboriginal rights laws” and that its effect is the “sidelining of Indigenous rights”.
*** Peter Garrett (November 2005) described the CRWMA as a “sorry and a sordid business driven by a licensing imperative for nuclear processes that no-one has consented to. This government continues to make a mockery of the principle of informed consent, of community participation and of respect for the wishes and interests of Aboriginal people in this country.”
*** Trish Crossin (5/12/06) said that: “It is extraordinary and profoundly shameful that in a matter as controversial and contested as the siting of a nuclear waste dump such long held and procedurally proper processes are being circumvented.” She noted that the Act “compromises the rights of Indigenous people living in the Territory to make decisions based on free, prior and informed consent.”

The Northern Territory Labor Party conference in April 2008 passed a resolution calling on the federal government to repeal the CRWMA as soon as possible. The resolution states: “Conference demands the Federal Government honour the election commitment to repeal the CRWMA legislation as soon as possible, and to notify affected communities and stakeholder groups when this will occur.”

More information on the CRWMA:
* “Rudd asked to repeal nuclear dump laws”, April 18, 2008, <

* NT News 18/4/08.
* CRWMA 2005 report, transcripts etc:
* CRWMA 2006 report, transcripts etc: <>
* ALP, Australian Democrats and Greens Report on CRWMA 2006: <>.


Trish Crossin (5/12/06) spoke in Parliament about the relevance of the CRWMA to the Muckaty site in the NT, which has been short-listed for a nuclear dump:

“This is also about the five families who belong to Muckaty Station, three of whom live on adjoining land. Senator Scullion himself said—and I will be interested to see the Hansard at some stage—that this was about ensuring that anyone who was on land adjacent to the Northern Land Council boundaries could provide no objections. That is exactly the political reality of this bill. This bill is about cutting out all the people affected by Muckaty Station, not just some of the traditional owners but a majority of them—not the ones who live within the Northern Land Council boundary but the ones who live within the Central Land Council boundary. I have a copy of a letter that was written by those people to the chairperson of the Northern Land Council, Mr John Daly, back in July. It states:
‘Dear Mr Daly,
We write to you with deep concern.
In the past, we have trusted the Northern Land Council (NLC) to protect our Homelands …
Mr Daly, why are you talking to David Tollner and Nigel Scullion for us about our country? Why are you helping the Commonwealth Government to take control of our land to build a nuclear waste facility? …
Mr Daly, we ask you to stop talking for us. We do not want a nuclear waste facility built on our land.’
This bill is exactly about silencing these traditional owners.”

Jenny Macklin said in Parliament in November 2006:
“However, I am aware that there are a number of possible sites under consideration for nomination, one of which is a property known as Muckaty Station. I am aware of this possibility because I have spoken to traditional owners and families from the property and surrounding areas, who asked to speak to me about the possible nomination of their lands for use as a nuclear waste dump. These traditional owners oppose the nomination of Muckaty. And these women expressed their considerable concern, indeed their distress, at this prospect, because they told me that they feel their rights, their views, their concerns and their lands are being trampled upon by this Government. The Bill under consideration by the House today will magnify that distress, because it openly and harshly rips away the legal requirement that any nomination of indigenous land for a nuclear waste dump must have the full and informed consent of the traditional owners of that land.”

The April 2008 NT ALP conference adopted this resolution:
“Conference understands the nomination of Muckaty as a potential radioactive dump site, made under the CRWMA legislation, was not made with the full and informed consent of all Traditional Owners and affected people and as such does not comply with the Aboriginal Land Rights Act (ALRA). Conference calls for the Muckaty nomination to also be repealed when the CRWMA legislation is overturned.”

Senator Kim Carr on the nomination of Muckaty as a potential dump site:
“Today’s announcement is yet the next chapter in the decade-long saga of lies and mismanagement that has become Howard’s waste dump.” (Media release, 27/9/07)

Mr Ferguson breaches Labor policy

Labor’s national conference in April 2007 committed to repealing the CRWMA if elected. Labor also promised a method of addressing radioactive waste management issues which is “scientific, transparent, accountable, fair and allows access to appeal mechanisms” and to “ensure full community consultation in radioactive waste decision-making processes”.

There has been no indication from Mr Ferguson that he intends to abide by any of these Labor policy commitments. His unwillingness to abide by the policy commitments of being transparent and accountable was brought into sharp relief by his responses to written Senate questions in April 2008. Mr Ferguson refused to provide substantive answers to a large number of questions regarding nuclear waste management. He responds to all questions by asserting that “this matter is under consideration by the Government” or “the Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism is currently working on a radioactive waste management strategy and the Minister will make details available when it is completed and agreed within Government”. His secrecy is so complete that even a question about what specific matters are under consideration is also said to be “under consideration”.

Here is a sample of Mr Ferguson’s non-responses:
Senate Standing Committee on Economics
Answers to questions on notice
Resources, Energy and Tourism Portfolio
Additional Estimates 2007-08
21 February 2008
Answers provided 15/4/08

When is repeal of the Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Act likely to be decided and announced? In the first half of 2008? Is this dependent in any way on the site assessment work currently being undertaken by Parsons Brinkerhoff?
Response: This matter is under consideration by the Government.

Will the affected communities and stakeholder organisations be contacted by the Department to notify them of the process of repeal?
Response: This matter is under consideration by the Government.

Does the ALP commitment to repeal the CRWMA also entail not pursuing any of the sites that had been assessed under the Howard government’s site selection process for the federal dump?
Response: This matter is under consideration by the Government.

What are the specific ‘matters currently under consideration’ that may potentially delay the repeal of the CRWMA?
Response: This matter is under consideration by the Government.

Are there any contracts signed by the previous Government that are being investigated as potential impediments to the legislative repeal?
Response: The Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism is currently working on a radioactive waste management strategy and the Minister will make details available when it is completed and agreed within Government.

Mr Ferguson patronises Aboriginal people

Mr. Ferguson claimed in Parliament (7/9/06) and in an Australian Financial Review opinion piece (13/9/06) that environmentalists and other special interest groups “have used indigenous communities to peddle their own ideology” and that “indigenous communities are starting to make their own decisions” about uranium mining.

Indigenous communities have always made their own decisions about nuclear proposals and it is offensive and patronising for Mr. Ferguson to suggest otherwise.

Mr. Ferguson’s statements also make it clear that he thinks Indigenous communities are making their own decisions when they support mining and they are dupes of ‘special interest groups’ when they oppose mining. There is no logic to this claim and no evidence to support it.

In response, Mitch, an Eastern Arrernte/Luritja woman from Alice Springs, wrote:
“When the Howard government’s proposal to build a nuclear waste dump in the Northern Territory was announced in July 2005, my Elders from the Harts Range site north-east of Alice Springs gave me permission to set up a protest camp and to speak out against it.
“The Alice Springs community and environment groups supported us, but they have never pressured us into anything or put words in our mouths. I reject the statement from Labor politician Martin Ferguson, published in the Financial Review on Wednesday, that environmentalists ‘have used indigenous communities to peddle their own ideology’. The environment groups have only ever helped us, not told us what to say.
“Mr. Ferguson is being paternalistic when he says, “indigenous communities are starting to make their own decisions about these issues.” As he should know, we have always made our own decisions, but the politicians don’t often listen.”

Mr Ferguson also made the following statement in Parliament: “The simple fact is that Indigenous empowerment is not in the interests of special interest groups, including environmental NGOs, because they might make their own decisions.” Leaving aside the paranoia and stupidity of Mr Ferguson’s comment, it begs the question: why hasn’t he empowered Indigenous people by repealing the CRWMA?

Mr. Ferguson’s parliamentary statement is posted at:

What is to be done?

It is imperative that Prime Minister haul Mr Ferguson into line and ensure that Labor’s policy commitments regarding nuclear waste are met and that election promises are not broken. Urgent repeal of the CRWMA would be a good start.

It should also be noted that nuclear waste management used to be part of the science portfolio and was handled by shadow science minister Kim Carr until the new ALP ministry was appointed. Why was nuclear waste management shifted to Mr Ferguson’s energy and resources portfolio, and might it not be a good idea for Mr Rudd to revisit that decision?

In addition to his mishandling of the contentious nuclear dump issue, and his patronising statements about Aboriginal people, Mr Ferguson has made countless false statements about energy and resource issues, as detailed in a paper posted at: <>.

A minister for energy and resources with a track record of making numerous false statements about energy and resources … one wonders if Mr Ferguson is the right person for this particular job?

There is a relevant precedent: then science minister Peter McGauran was removed from the science portfolio for mishandling nuclear waste issues in 2003.

Appendix: ALP policies on nuclear waste management

A joint press release issued by Senator Kim Carr, Minister Warren Snowdon and Senator Trish Crossin last year commits Labor to:
“Legislate to restore transparency, accountability and procedural fairness including the right of access to appeal mechanisms in any decisions in relation the sighting of any nuclear waste facilities.
Ensure that any proposal for the siting of a nuclear waste facility on Aboriginal Land in the Northern Territory would adhere to the requirements that exist under the Aboriginal Land Rights, Northern Territory Act (ALRA).
Restore the balance and pending contractual obligation, will not proceed with the establishment of a nuclear waste facility on or off Aboriginal land until the rights removed by the Howard government are restored and a proper and agreed site selection process is carried out.
Not arbitrarily impose a nuclear waste facility without agreement on any community, anywhere in Australia.”
(Media Release 06/03/07, “Govt’s waste dump fiasco, cont’d”).

Excerpt from the National ALP Platform 2007 (chapter 5):

A Federal Labor Government will:
* Not proceed with the development of any of the current sites identified by the Howard Government in the Northern Territory, if no contracts have been entered into for those sites.
* Repeal the Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Act 2005.
* Establish a process for identifying suitable sites that is scientific, transparent, accountable, fair and allows access to appeal mechanisms.
* Identify a suitable site for a radioactive waste dump in accordance with the new process.
* Ensure full community consultation in radioactive waste decision-making processes.
* Commit to international best practice scientific processes to underpin Australia’s radioactive waste management, including transportation and storage.

One response to “Articles

  1. i think the above article is exceedingly well written and the arguments are compelling.

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